Mississippi John Hurt

D.C. Blues: Library of Congress Recordings

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Mississippi John Hurt was easily the most accessible of all the 1920s bluesmen rediscovered still alive and in playing condition in the early 1960s. His easy, gentle singing voice and deft guitar picking abilities were still intact and undiminished, and where some of his hard-living contemporaries suffered from alcoholism, Alzheimer's, or just plain crankiness when they emerged into the bright lights of the folk- and- blues- revivals, Hurt projected a calm, unaffected professionalism. The recordings on this two-disc set were made for the Library of Congress Archive of American Folk Song during two sessions on July 15 and 23, 1963. Hurt recorded 36 songs over those two days, all of which are included here (for some reason, Hurt's version of "Nobody's Business" isn't listed on the CD jacket, but appears as an untitled track at the close of disc one). His signature tunes "Avalon Blues" and "Candy Man" are here, as are a varied assortment of blues, pre-blues songster material, and folk spirituals. The sound is wonderful and intimate, and Hurt emerges as a living, breathing presence. His occasional minor miscues only add to the front porch feel of his performance, and while his Vanguard studio sessions are also solid, they appear almost hermetic compared to the tracks found here. Versions of these Library of Congress recordings have appeared in different configurations over the years, but having them all in one package makes this set the one to get. One minor complaint: "Talking Casey Jones" is misprinted on the CD jacket as "Taking Casey Jones." And one regret: "Blue Harvest Blues," arguably the most striking of his original 78 RPMs for Okeh Records in 1928, was never performed by Hurt (or at least never recorded) during his rediscovery period. One wishes he had given it a try.

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